Half Moon Bay – Lawsuit Filed Against Flawed Big Wave Project Plan Approval

The California Pilot Association’s Board members Carol Ford and Andy Wilson did an admirable job representing Calpilots in opposing the Big Wave Project near Half Moon Bay Airport. Nevertheless the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors ignored all opposing arguments and approved the project. That, however, is not the end of the story.

A group of fellow opponents has filed a lawsuit to set aside the Bord’s approval. Groups joining in the lawsuit include the :

  • Committee for Green Foothills
  • Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club
  • the Surfrider Foundation
  • the San Mateo County League for Coastside Protection and the
  • Pillar Ridge Homeowners Association

“The Board of Supervisors ignored basic common sense in granting approval for this project” said Lennie Roberts, representative of Green Foothills.

Editor’s Note: See background articles below

Updated May 1, 2011

For Immediate Release April 19, 2011

Contact:Lennie Roberts (650) 854-0449, Lisa Ketcham (650) 728-2756, or Mike Ferreira (650) 563-4030

Five organizations have appealed the controversial Big Wave Project to the California Coastal Commission. Big Wave proposes to build 225,000 sq. ft. Office and Commercial space plus housing for 50 Developmentally Disabled Adults and 20 caregivers in a Tsunami Hazard Area and next to the environmentally sensitive Pillar Point Marsh in Moss Beach.

The organizations are: Committee for Green Foothills, Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation, San Mateo County Chapter, Pillar Ridge Homeowners Association, and San Mateo County League for Coastside Protection.

The Appellants cite numerous safety concerns with the project’s location within the mapped Tsunami Hazard Area, next to an active earthquake fault, and on sandy soils that are highly susceptible to violent shaking, liquefaction, sand boils, differential settlement, and other earthquake hazards. The environmentally sensitive Pillar Point Marsh, home to a wide diversity of species, including the California red-legged frog, could be impacted by the project, particularly by inadequate stormwater drainage systems and overflows from its wastewater system. The project is of further concern as it proposes to use an on-site well and sewage treatment system, as it would bypass the public utility systems and could create impacts to the marsh if inadequately managed.

“The Big Wave project is the largest project San Mateo County has ever approved on the coast.It would nearly double the office and commercial space between Pacifica and Santa Cruz. The 46-foot high Office Park buildings would loom over the single-story homes, farmed fields, and preserved open space that will surround them, detracting from the natural, scenic qualities that are highly prized by residents and coastal visitors alike”, said Lisa Ketcham, President of the Pillar Ridge Homeowners. “Our remote area has only two narrow indirect access points, that the project’s 2,123 daily vehicle trips must navigate through. Long lines of cars blocking narrow roads will delay emergency vehicles trying to access our community and impede emergency evacuation.”

Emergency evacuation has been recently necessary during the Tsunami warnings in the Half Moon Bay area. The evacuation turned out not to be necessary, as there was only about a three foot high wave, at low tide. But next time our area of the coast might not be so lucky.

“Less than one month after the devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and with the ink barely dry on a proclamation designating March 20-26 as ‘Tsunami Awareness Week’ the County Board of Supervisors ignored common sense, duty to protect its citizens, and their own long-standing regulations when they approved the Big Wave housing for a vulnerable population in the Tsunami Inundation Area”, said Lennie Roberts, Legislative Advocate for the Committee for Green Foothills. Roberts noted that San Mateo County and other areas up and down the west coast are not immune to a large tsunami event that would be spawned by a major underwater earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, which stretches from Cape Mendocino to Vancouver Island.

Edmundo Larenas, Chair of the San Mateo County Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, observed, “Surfrider Foundation has worked with San Mateo county to identify sources of pollutants in the Pillar Point Harbor. Capistrano Beach in the Harbor has been identified as one of the most polluted in the state. Surfrider is concerned that this project’s inadequate wastewater disposal and storm water drainage systems will negatively impact the water quality of an already degraded Harbor.”

The project also has received strong objections from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the State Division of Aeronautics, and the San Mateo County Department of Public Works, due to the location of housing so close to the airport. The County risks loss of federal funding for the airport due to the fundamental incompatibility of the housing with safe operation of the airport.

Mike Ferreira, Conservation Chair of the Loma Prieta Chapter of Sierra Club, observed, “Environmental organizations are sympathetic to the need for housing of people at all economic levels, including people with disabilities. >But this location could not be worse for this vulnerable population.”

Appellants have noted that there are other alternative locations for the housing. These include small group homes housing four to six adults within the MidCoast area which are close to neighborhood services rather than in this remote location. The Pillar Ridge community of manufactured homes next door is a designated affordable housing site, and has vacancies. Lisa Ketcham has indicated that some of the Big Wave folks visit friends at Pillar Ridge, and they would be welcome as residents. Large institutional facilities such as Big Wave are not the preferred choice for housing of developmentally disabled people any more, but there are sites in Half Moon Bay that could accommodate a facility such as Big Wave, including near the Half Moon Bay High School, which is zoned Planned Unit Development, and is within walking distance of support services.

“We are very interested in helping find an alternative location”, said Lennie Roberts. “As the parent of a Developmentally Disabled daughter myself, I fully sympathize with the need, but this is not a suitable location.”

Besides the Appeal by the environmental and community organizations, both the Montara Water and Sanitary District and Granada Sanitary District are expected to appeal the County’s approval of Big Wave to the Coastal Commission.